Baseball, Men's Sports, Sports

Dirtbags pitcher finds power in struggle

Dirtbags’ freshman pitcher Luis Ramirez’s impressive baseball journey from Salesian High School to Sunday starter for the Dirtbags almost never happened.

The summer before his freshman year of high school, Ramirez’s parents needed to move back to Mexico, where Ramirez was born. Ramirez was set to go with them and stop pursuing baseball until his little league travel-ball coach, Sergio Sanchez, stepped in.

“[Sanchez] offered for me to live with him after he found out that I was gonna move to Mexico,” Ramirez said. “I thought it was a good idea for me to continue baseball and school here in Los Angeles.”

As a result of Sanchez’s hospitality and Ramirez’s willingness to live away from his parents, Ramirez stayed in L.A. to attend Salesian High School. The decision to live away from family wasn’t one that Ramirez took lightly.

“I’m close to my parents,” Ramirez said. “They’re the ones that inspired me to do what I’m doing right now.”

Ramirez’s close ties with his host family, the close ties with his biological family, and his ability to pursue baseball in the United States created a rollercoaster of emotions while he lived away from his parents. They came to visit him about once a month, but could only stay for a weekend at a time.  

“It was kinda cool at first, ‘cause I was living with my friend,” Ramirez said, “but then I started missing my parents, and it was kind of tough.”

Ramirez got through the hard times by investing himself in his love of baseball. Baseball was one of the main reasons he stayed in the U.S., something he never forgot during that first year of high school.

“He worked his tail off here at the school,” Salesian head coach David Sifuentes said.

And boy did he work.

“By December of his freshman year, I knew I had something special,” Sifuentes said. “He was All-State his freshman year.”

If Ramirez had gone back to Mexico to live with his parents, he almost certainly would not have played high school baseball and the accomplishments of his freshman year would never have happened. His parents returned to the U.S. the summer after that academic year. 

Ramirez’s performance on the field while his parents were away earned him a spot in the prestigious Perfect Game U17 World Series. Perfect Game is an organization that looks to showcase the best young baseball talent in the country in front of hundreds of scouts. Ramirez played for Perfect Game several times, and the first experience was a wake-up call.

“The first couple times there he was humbled,” Sifuentes said.

Ramirez, however, said the experience was also revelatory.

“It let me know how much more work I had to put in to be up there with [top national competition],” Ramirez said.

So Ramirez started working harder. He always gave his all in practice at Salesian, but he started adding after-school workouts with his father, recently returned from Mexico, to his regimen.

“My dad was a pitcher when he was little, too, so he would take me out to train,” Ramirez said. “After I would finish all my homework he would take me to Salazar park by my house. We’d just throw the ball around … working mostly on mechanics.”

The extra work, again, paid off. Ramirez was invited to the Perfect Game twice more and improved each time.

“The second time out he did a much better job,” Sifuentes said. “He got base hits off of two guys that were first-round draft picks the following year.”

Ramirez was born in Ensenada, Mexico, and his family moved to the U.S. when he was two years old. His first challenge was learning English, and he became fluent by the time he was in first grade despite his parents not knowing the language.

Then, Ramirez struggled to spend a year away from his parents. After that, he achieved yet another goal:becoming a first-generation college student.  

Now Ramirez is simultaneously balancing the workload of a four-year university and a Division l baseball program. He’s throwing at least three times a week in addition to his strength and conditioning program.

“He’ll lift three days a week as well,” Dirtbags head coach Eric Valenzuela said. “It’s a pretty tough schedule for him to stay on and that’s not even counting the school part of it. It’s a busy schedule for him. That’s the one thing that we’re working on is helping him with his time management.”

Valenzuela isn’t worried about those challenges. He knows the weapon he has in Ramirez and believes in his potential.

“If you’re a good baseball guy and have a good eye for talent, you can see something special in him,” Valenzuela said.

The Dirtbags open the 2020 season at home against Cal on Feb. 14 at 6 p.m. Expect Ramirez to start game three of the series Sunday, Feb. 16 at 1 p.m. 

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